1 Corinthians 13 is not the only passage on love; I personally prefer the sterner version in Romans 12:9-21, but then again I could be biased because Romans 12 is my favourite Bible Chapter; there’s also 1 John 4:7-21, which offers the perspective from John instead of Paul (one would think that John epitomized love better than Paul, Paul has always been so strict and rigid, although never lacking in love!), amongst others. But 1 Corinthians 13 is probably the most famous passage on love, due to its hopefulness (you don’t see scary words like burning coals anywhere) and gentleness. The Bible radiated with verses on hope and faith, and these are obviously great values and lessons heralded by the Bible, but Paul puts it bluntly in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 – if you have everything and can do anything but do not have love, you are nothing and you gain nothing. Thinking about it, it’s rather harsh as usual. John’s many many statements on love are rarely this harsh. But perhaps we ought to be grateful. If Paul was never that harsh, we’ll be fuddled along with the gray areas that the devil would love for us to fall into. The starting verses of 1 Corinthians 13 act as a foreshadow to the last line of the chapter: But the greatest of these is love. You can have anything in the world, but if you don’t have love, you are nothing, and it is all meaningless, because God is love.
What is hope? In an earlier post I defined hope as a feeling that what is wanted can be had, or that events will turn out for the best. In my earlier post on Hebrews 11:1, I first brought up John Piper’s ‘What is hope’ sermon, where he highlights that the most common usage of hope found in the Bible is almost opposite to how the term is usually used today:
“Ordinarily, when we express hope, we are expressing uncertainty… biblical hope is a confident expectation and desire for something good in the future. Biblical hope not only desires something good for the future; it expects it to happen. And it not only expects it to happen; it is confident that it will happen. There is a moral certainty that the good we expect and desire will be done.”
(I urge you to read this John Piper Sermon on What is Hope, for he says it far better than I do – he is surely far more qualified than I am, in spirituality or in life itself!)
What is faith? Hebrews 11:1 [Article] tells us that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. John Piper in his sermon ‘What faith knows and hopes for‘ paraphrases: “faith is a kind of spiritual tasting of what God has promised so that we feel a deep, substantial assurance of things hoped for; and faith is a kind of spiritual seeing of the invisible fingerprints of God in the things he has made. By the one we know God’s power and wisdom to make us, and by the other we know his goodness and grace to save us.”
Perhaps what makes our faith great is the One whom we place our faith in. Because God is great, we can claim our faith to be great. One can have faith in anything, indeed – you can have faith in your pastor, you can have faith in money, in yourself, in your spouse. But what truly makes our faith invincible is the character of the One we place our faith in.
What is love? 1 Corinthians 13 is perhaps the most rounded answer to this question, although for a complete question one really needs to hike through the entirety of the Bible, because love is such a common topic throughout the Bible. I hate to quote this, because it reminds me of a wedding, but still:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Cor 13:4-8.
There are many kinds of love in the Bible. There are those that depict God’s unconditional love for us. There are those of brotherly love and charitable love. Here, we’re really just looking at a very general and broad sense of love.
Analysis: The link
I quote Dave Baylor’s article on John Eldredge’s book, The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God:
“According to Eldridge, faith is the foundation of past relationship. Faith is based on what has gone on in the past. Past events that we can look back on a basis for future trust. Specifically, based on our previous interactions and experience, can I trust this person to continue in the future as they have in the past. If the person in question has proved trustworthy over the years, we have faith that they will continue in integrity. Again according to Eldridge, hope is the future aspect of the relationship. Do we have hope that there are yet significant aspects of life that can be shared together? Notice that I did not say good things. These aspects of life may be good or they may be bad. The outcome is not the issue. The issue is whether or not those in relationship chose to journey together and find benefit in sharing them together. Both faith and hope are essential in any relationship.
However, the final concept of the trio, love, is the unifying element. Love is the active present. It is life in the now that gives meaning and basis to the past and the future. Love is what keeps relationships from dying of nostalgia or flitting away in good intentions. It is the energy in the relationship pushing us to seek the best for the other. It is the force that drives us to provide comfort, encouragement, accountability, and the occasional kick in the pants. Love is the life blood of relationship. And it is three together – faith, hope, and love – that form the essential foundation of any relationship, trust. Faith allows us to see that someone has been trustworthy in the past. Hope allows us to see someone as trustworthy in the future. Love is the force that pushes it along day to day to deeper and deeper commitment.”
Why is love the greatest? There are probably a thousand ways to answer this, but the easiest would probably be: God is love. The Bible never said God is faith. It never said God is hope (although it is not uncommon to hear that these days). God grants faith. God enables us to hope. Sure, God grants love too. And God enables us to love too. But ultimately, God is love. And we are nothing, if we do not have love. We will gain nothing, if we have no love. Indeed, what is the point of having faith and having hope, if we cannot even love when our God is love?
It is not hard to love when in good times. In trying times, love comes so rarely that we ought to cling on to it tightly in view of God’s mercy. The first step to being a spiritual giant is to love. Before you think about having hope or faith, please think about love. Before you even attempt to gain more hope or faith, please work on loving the unlovely; loving the people society has taught you to ignore. Let me emphasize this. Hope and faith are both great. However, love is not just great, not just greater, but the greatest of all.